Was Luis Robles at fault for the goals LA Galaxy scored against RBNY on May 14? Once A Metro asked Bill Reno - more often found at EverybodySoccer.com - to weigh in on whether the Red Bulls 'keeper might have done more to stop the shots LA put past him. And to our delight, he agreed.
It’s been a weird season for MLS goalkeepers and last weekend was not an exception. Luis Robles has had a decent enough year but, similar to 2016, it’s hard to find consistency when a defense is leaking shots in front of you. (Robles currently sits first in shots faced.) Fortunately for me, this gives me a platform to talk goalkeeping, which I’ll never turn down. So let’s take a minute look at the first two goals from the game between New York Red Bulls and LA Galaxy to settle the ol’ "should he or shouldn’t he have saved it?" debate.
We will be skipping the third goal, a penalty kick from Giovani dos Santos. Robles is 7 of 31 on penalty kicks all-time (23% save percentage: almost exactly average). So I’m not going to bother covering the third goal. I thought dos Santos lined up wider than normal and assumed he’d go to Robles’ right but a player of dos Santos’ caliber has the ability to go either way. There’s no need to nitpick one penalty kick when Robles has historically held his own.
Both of the first two goals were a result of bad movement, and I will display this through grainy screenshots taken from YouTube.
First Goal - 8th Minute
1. As Romain Alessandrini whips the ball in, Robles is not ready for the play. Notice his relaxed "Eh, what could go wrong?" stance.
2. The ball is halfway to Robles and now he jumps into position. He has lost valuable time to adjust, which we will see soon.
For those calling for him to go punch the ball, I wouldn’t completely disagree with the idea although it’s impossible for Robles if he’s going to be this slow in getting set. Personally I think it’s a little out of reach for him but he could punch the hell out of this ball if he changes his approach. Maybe a step off his line and definitely being ready from the get-go.
3 & 4. The ball doesn’t trickle too far past Robles but with his weight and footwork so out of sorts (he never gets his feet together on the play, they’re always out of step with each other) it’s an impossible task. This all comes from Robles’ slow start on the free kick and now he is having to play catch up. Notice his left foot to see how his momentum is still carrying him.
If Robles is ready from the start, he shuffles quickly to his left, gets set, and shoots his hands low for the shot. Admittedly, any rebound likely gets put back home but there’s always hope.
[Editor's note: Point of information, for what it's worth - in his post-match comments Robles said he hadn't yet had a chance to review the tape, but he could clearly recall being frozen by Van Damme's movement. He blamed the hesitation for the goal.
Robles is generally a calm presence post-match, but also one who doesn't often seek to deflect criticism when the team has performed poorly. He responded to a direct question about the first goal, but kicked off his comments by describing the first half as a "beatdown" for RBNY, and saying he was embarrassed by his own performance and that of his team as a whole, and the Red Bulls' "entire disposition" in the opening 45 minutes.]
Second Goal - 9th Minute
Woof. What a horrid start. One minute later the Galaxy is back at it.
1. Robles is set up fine. He can’t check his shoulder without losing visibility on the ball, so perhaps a general "mark up!" call out would be nice but they’re all professionals.
2. Again it’s bad movement for Robles. He has taken too long to move off his post. The ball is already to Alessandrini and Robles has maybe covered one yard. The slow movement is like trying to stop an eighteen-wheeler: it’s going to take a lot of time. To make it even more problematic, it appears a falling defender (atop the six yard box) is blocking Robles’ vision.
3. The video doesn’t make it 100% clear but I think Robles is originally trying to basket catch this dipping shot. I think this is why his hands are out of sorts. Combined with the poor eyeline, the ball movement fools Robles enough to slip through.
4. Robles’ momentum still hasn’t come to a complete stop. His weight carries him another yard, which brings up another point about movement. (I imagine if you’ve scrolled this far you’re interested in goalkeeper theory.) 95% of the time, a goalkeeper should move to get into the best possible position. However the other 5%, the goalkeeper just needs to stand strong where they are because the time it takes to move will actually hurt them. This is a great example of when a goalkeeper needs to stop moving and just get set. Robles is still sliding to his left here and it exacerbates the problem.
I’m not sure what’s going on with his hands. At the very least he should be able to just push it away but it is hit with pace from close range, so it’s hard to say for sure. If this was a penalty kick and his hands did the same, people would have a different response.
While the hands have their own issues, ultimately the goal can be traced back to Robles’ slow movement from the post and the inability to keep his lateral movement under control. If he fixes his footwork here, I think the rest falls in line.
Should He Have Saved the Goals?
It depends who "he" is. If we’re talking about an average MLS goalkeeper, these are probably around 40-60 plays. Maybe less. There are moving pieces with multiple outcomes that a goalkeeper must decipher within a second. However if we’re talking about an EPL goalkeeper, then the answer is yes. These are the types of saves they’re expected to make and if they don’t they’ll find someone who can. Robles clearly lines somewhere between the average goalkeeper and an elite one but exactly where differs from person to person. So in a classically postmodern answer, it comes down to everyone’s personal opinion on Robles and where they think he stands, as long as fans understand MLS goalkeepers are going to concede these types of goals.
I’m not sure there’s much to take from this on Robles’ part. These are two intriguing plays to dissect (they were intriguing for me, I should say) and it’s helpful in accessing goalkeeper movement for future reference, but we all know who Robles is. Maybe it wasn’t his best performance but I haven’t heard many calling for his replacement.